Monday, July 24, 2017

I'm not an atheist...

I’m not an atheist, but it appears that I’ve talked myself into a damn corner on the topic of theology.
Without revelation, all theology is negative theology
Revelation, to me, is the only thing that can provide legitimacy to beliefs about God. Whether God is, what God is, what God wants (if God is indeed the kind of X that has the capacity for wants)-- without revelation, I don’t think it makes sense to talk about any of those things.

And, again, I’m not an atheist; I just don’t believe in revelation. Every provided example of revelation appears to me like a human act of interpretation, specifically one that is tainted by its humanness. The provided record of revelation reads like historical product, political propaganda, wish fulfillment and revenge fantasy, selection bias, ethnocentrism, etc.

I believe that any serious belief in God must be accompanied by a theory of idolatry. I believe that any approach to God must provide an account of what it means to be wrong about God. In this regard, I’m not so different from other monotheists (ripping off Dawkins here), in that any possessor of a ‘true’ revelation will usually be ready with arguments for the falsity of other alleged revelations. But without the possession of a ‘true’ revelation, I only have arguments against.

So I’m not saying I don’t believe in God; I just think that everyone (who attempts to provide positive content to the concept of God)  is wrong about God.

With revelation, our inadequacy is overcome through relationship

Thanks to Rabbi Aviva Richman for teaching me this passage. The summary beneath it is mine.
To what may the matter be compared? To the case of a king who had a friend. The king said to him: “I want you to know that I shall dine with you. Go then and make preparations for me.” His friend went and prepared a common couch, a common candelabra and a common table. When the king arrived, there came with him ministers who encompassed him on this side and that, and a golden candlestick preceded him. His friend, seeing all this pomp, felt ashamed and put away all that he had prepared for him, as it was all common. Said the king to him: “Did I not tell you that I would dine with you? Why did you not prepare anything for me?” His friend answered him: “Seeing all the pomp that accompanied you, I felt ashamed, and put away all that I had prepared for you, because they were common utensils.” “By your life!” said the king to him, “I shall set aside all the utensils that I have brought, and for love of you I shall use none but yours!” So in our case. The Holy One, blessed be He, is all light; as it says, “The light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22). Yet He said to Israel: “Prepare for Me a candelabra and lamps.”
tl;dr - Human light literally cannot hold a candle to divine light. Human understanding cannot approach divine reality. And yet, with God’s revelation, human concepts and words are given dignity. God’s desire for relationship overcomes the overwhelming reality/power/status gap between God and human.

This is what separates me from my apophatic heroes-- Maimonides and Meister Eckhart. For all of their negative theology, they believed in revelation, and this allowed them to want to stay within their religious institutions and to find meaning and legitimacy in liturgy.

This damn corner
I miss my previous relationship with God. But I believe that that relationship cannot exist without revelation,  and I can no longer believe in revelation. Source criticism, naturalism, and psychology have ingrained in me an inescapable skepticism about any alleged revelation.

If there is such an X as God, I can only hope that Silence is, indeed, considered praise.

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